Attending part of the high school’s NJROTC awards and change of command ceremony the other evening, I doubt that any of the adults could not but feel a great sense of pride in those young people who have embarked on a path of developing self-discipline and excellence.
And as the commander spoke of each senior’s hopes for the future—whether continuing in the military or no—I found myself reminiscing of my own youthful hopes and dreams of days gone by, and could not but begin to envy the trials and challenges, adventures and accomplishments that lay ahead of those excellent young men and women.
One of the things most evident with those young people after the ceremony was their responses to elders in conversation, liberally peppered with “Yes sir”, “No sir”, in polite and respectful deference … reminding of scripture: “Stand up in the presence of the aged, and show respect for the old…” (Leviticus 19:32)
In these days of such strident political strife, tweet blizzards and insults all around by all political sides, such courtesy and respect for others simply in their status as fellow human beings is all the more appreciated … and needed.
There are nowadays innumerable articles lamenting the loss of civility in the public forum, though sometimes it seems for naught. Many people in our day daily use language and behavior that even they would never deem acceptable even in their own children. Don’t we teach our little ones to share, be kind, don’t insult, etc.? So when and why the turnaround?
Sadly, some even revel in the misfortunes of others … even in the deaths of loved ones of persons with whom they disagree in political or social matters. Can we not have simple human compassion for those who are experiencing grief attendant in the loss of a family member? One might remember “…you should not have gloated over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced…in the day of their ruin…” (Obadiah 1:12), or “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and be displeased…” (Proverbs 24:17-18)
“Love your enemies”—one of the most challenging of Jesus’ admonitions, and yet attended with one of His greatest promises: “…that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5:44) He goes on to explain: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:44-47) In other words, if you do only what everyone else does—especially in despising and attacking others simply because of visceral emotion—what merit redounds to you? Villains—and even animals—do as much.
Almost all of us tend to involuntarily mentally recoil at the notorious gossiper, the injudicious accuser and the like, instinctively repelled at undiscerning mentality, which would condemn another without due consideration of the other’s circumstances, history, pressures or intent. But Jesus warns: “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22)
Yikes! Then why be the judgmental accuser? Certainly, we need not be naïve, especially in protecting the welfare of those in our charge, but does not the higher road lay with giving the benefit of the doubt to the other? As St. Paul reminds us: “…what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11)
I’m constantly telling members of my parish that, when angry at a person or holding a grudge, pray for that person; it’s a lot harder to be mad at someone you’re praying for, and maybe God will move your own heart to forgiveness. See Matthew 6 & 18 for details on the necessity to forgive … not even to mention that “meek and humble of heart” thing, which leads to rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:30)
Jesus tells us that to be first, we must become the last and the servant of all. Perhaps that’s what those aforementioned young people in the NJROTC are discovering—that true honor, and even happiness, is not found in selfishly pursuing one’s own good alone, but rather in seeking a good comradery in service of others—of their fellow students, and of society at large.
Any productive employment can be an avenue of good. A favorite Bible passage lauding the various merits of common tradesmen and craftsmen ends with: “All these rely upon their hands, and each is skillful in his own work. Without them a city cannot be established, and men can neither sojourn nor live there…they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” (Sirach 38:31-34) Is this not true? When’s the last time you called a physicist (no offense!), compared to the last and number of times you’ve called a plumber?
We need not be famous … we need not make the history books … we need not be the envy of the world. All that is required is to love God and neighbor, and to treat others how we wish to be treated. Or, in the simple phrasing of the prophet Micah: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)